Susan Clary: Outraged by the ‘textgate’ scandal? Then run for office.

Nothing earth-shattering came from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) report released last week on the Orange County Commission’s “Textgate” scandal.

It’s no surprise that Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Commissioners Scott Boyd, Fred Brummer, Jennifer Thompson and former Commissioner John Martinez broke state public records laws when they deleted texts from lobbyists on the paid sick-time debate.

They said it was “inadvertent.” That’s preposterous. How often does anyone delete texts?

And while it’s disappointing they were assessed $500 fines rather than answer to criminal charges, no one with half a mind thought they would be prosecuted. A newly elected state attorney, who depends on county money, isn’t going to bite the hand that feeds him.

Still, Orange County voters were denied the right to decide the sick-time issue even after 50,000 of them signed petitions to put it on the ballot. The four commissioners, all Republicans, subverted that process.

This allowed the GOP-led Legislature time to pass a law blocking local governments from implementing paid sick-leave ordinances in the future.

In the end, our elected leaders betrayed the public trust. They conspired with the head of the local Republican Party, Lew Oliver, to kill the ballot measure under the direction of corporate interests like Disney, Darden and Universal – with little punishment.

And I’m here to tell you it will happen again. In Florida, violating public records laws and Government in the Sunshine is like getting a traffic ticket. If a $500 fine is all you might face, it pales in comparison to the thousands of dollars local business can pour into your next campaign. It’s worth it to break the law.

In his report, the state attorney said what Oliver did was completely  legal. “There is no evidence of any intent to hide the involvement of the citizen (Oliver) who devised the plan to defeat the initiative. In fact, the citizen (Oliver) seems rather proud of his accomplishment.” He is free to repeat the performance and give himself a gold star.

If you live in any city or county in Florida, you should be very afraid. It’s another wake-up call.

Powerful business leaders and lobbyists will always have the mobile numbers of your elected officials. Some elected officials will be willing to skirt the law or create new laws to accomplish their personal goals.

If you are reading this and you don’t like business as usual in Florida, do something about it. I’m not talking about collecting petitions for another ballot initiative or calling your leaders to ask them to strengthen our public records laws, though those are noble efforts.

I am talking about running for office or looking for someone you respect and trust and asking them to run.

Let’s face it. We aren’t getting anywhere. If you’re unhappy with the crappy economy, an environment that’s wasting away, our overworked teachers in dilapidated schools or our mucked up transportation system – run for office.

Yes, it takes money to run a campaign, but it also can be done with a strong grassroots effort. We have some good elected leaders who have gotten elected in just this way.

If you are outraged, you are the kind of elected leader we need. The kind of leader who will listen to us and make decisions based on moral and ethical values rather than the almighty dollar.

That is the road to change. Go run.

Susan Clary

One comment

  • Tom Stearns

    September 20, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I have that t-shirt. What voters say and what they do are not the same.

Comments are closed.


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